The Mississippi River is the nation’s second-largest river flowing 2,340 miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. This very long river supplies millions of people through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana with drinking water. As one of North America’s great migration routes, the Mississippi River is home to almost 300 different species. The wildlife that makes their home on the banks of the river rely on it as a source of food and water.
Floods occur along the Mississippi River because of heavy spring rain and above-normal amounts of melting snow coming down from the mountains. Due to the severe flooding in the past, Arizona lawmakers are proposing diverting the Mississippi River through the state of Arizona. This may be problematic as it would not only be time-consuming and extremely expensive but it could disrupt the surrounding wildlife. Invasive species could potentially be introduced as well.
Severe flooding has occurred throughout history and the Mississippi is not immune to heavy rain. In recorded history, there have been 26 floods along the Mississippi River. Over the years, levee systems and floodways have been installed to try to reduce the risk of catastrophic floods. Though even with systems in place, some storms are too great, and floods become too strong. This ends up doing extensive damage to the land and communities nearby. Let’s take a look at the 5 worst Mississippi River floods in recorded history.
1. Great Flood of 1844
The Great Flood of 1844 was devastating in terms of how widespread it was. There were very few levees in the region at the time so the waters were able to spread much farther than their normal banks. In terms of mortality, the flood was especially devastating to the Wyandot people who lost over 100 people to the diseases that occurred in the aftermath of the flood.
A large sandbar was formed as a result of the flood which caused settlers to travel further west to Westport Landing in Kansas City, significantly affecting the local economy. In order to prevent future floods from reaching as far as this one had, the United States Congress passed the Swamp Land Act which provided land grants to build stronger levees. Due to the construction of more levees, the areas along the Missouri River affected by floods have been altered.
2. Great Mississippi Flood of 1874
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1874, also known as the Great Overflow of 1874, was one of the most devastating floods to hit the Lower Mississippi Valley. Heavy spring rain caused the river to overflow and flood millions of acres of land. Some areas were completely submerged underwater from February to May.
It was reported that 31 of Louisiana’s 53 parishes were either partially or entirely underwater, making 375,000 people lost their homes to the flood waters. An estimated 12,500,000 acres had been flooded across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
3. Great Mississippi Flood of 1927
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history. Due to heavy rainfall from the summer of 1926 to the Spring of 1927, over 27,000 square miles of land in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Mississippi Delta region were flooded. Over the course of several months, water depths reached a whopping 30 feet.
By August of 1927, the flood had subsided but the areas affected were left in disrepair. Around 500 people died and over 600,000 people were displaced as a result of the flood. The cost of damages was estimated between 250 million to 1 billion dollars. The severity of the flood caused the federal government to build the world’s longest system of levees and floodways.
4. Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993
The Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993 was the worst flood recorded since the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The immense amounts of snowmelt and rainfall led to flooding from April to October 1993. Around May 1993 after heavy rain, the Redwood River in Minnesota began experiencing severe flooding. In June, the Black River in Wisconsin and the Mississippi, Missouri, and Kansas rivers began flooding as well.
Some areas along the Mississippi River flooded for almost 200 days. Around 32 people were reported dead but it’s estimated the flood took over 50 lives. Approximately 100,000 homes were destroyed in the flood leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Entire towns were relocated to higher ground after the floods destroyed them completely.
5. Great Mississippi Flood of 2011
In April 2011, two large storms caused record-breaking levels of rainfall on the Mississippi River. These storms were also responsible for one of the largest outbreaks of tornadoes in U.S. history. When the rainfall combined with the snowmelt, areas along the Mississippi river began to experience severe flooding.
These catastrophic floods resulted in the deaths of 368 people. Over 25,000 homes were evacuated and close to 800 people were displaced as a result of the flooding. In order to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Morganza Spillway was opened for the first time in 37 years. This deliberately flooded somewhere around 4,200 acres of rural Louisiana.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Willard
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